Sunday, August 10, 2008

Kouchner on the Russia-Georgia War

Bernard Kouchner appeared last night on France2 to register French concern about the rapidly escalating war between Georgia and Russia. He was oddly belligerent himself, repeatedly cutting off his interviewer, chiding him for carelessly worded questions, and managing to look rather disheveled and nonplussed for a diplomat. To be sure, Kouchner is an unusual diplomat, and he did not achieve his position by a long apprenticeship in the art of saying nothing in portentous and pompous language.

France can be forgiven for having no settled policy in regard to this conflict. It was not alone in failing to anticipate the explosion. But it was a mistake for Kouchner to make the frantic effort to improvise so plain and to rap the knuckles of other European countries such as the Netherlands, which are equally reduced to improvisation. "Let's not go into the details" of who attacked whom, Kouchner loudly insisted. Indeed, this conflict has a long history. But it will also have long-term consequences involving Europe's energy supply, and dealing with Russia over energy has been a central focus of Sarkozy's maneuvering. And Sarkozy opposed Georgia's bid for NATO membership--a move that in retrospect appears prescient, for it would be awkward indeed for NATO now to be facing an invasion of a member state by Russia.

Will Sarkozy be able to unite the EU to take a common position on the war? No doubt everyone can deplore its existence, but what then? Pipelines passing through Georgia make the stakes vital for the EU, but ultimately the oil and gas are controlled by Russia. The conflict is extremely messy, so perhaps Kouchner's disarray was merely an accurate reflection of the consternation prevailing at the Quai d'Orsay.


Anonymous said...

Good post,

If Mr Kouchner's response to this crisis has so far amounted to little more than ineffectual posturing, it wouldn't be the first time. According to a cover story in L'Express last month, he's becoming rather marginal figure, overshadowed on the major dossiers by the Elysee. If true, then it will be Sarkozy who devises the French response to Russia-Georgia, let's hope he does so with a touch more poise.

Boz said...

You're certainly right with regard to the improvisation of the West right now, but I fail to see what you mean by Sarkozy's opposition to NATO membership being "prescient"; NATO membership might have prevented the exact thing that is happening now. Russia took advantage of the division among France/Germany and the US to now greatly reduce Georgian chances of NATO membership anytime in the near future.

Unknown said...

Prevented? Really? Russia is undoubtedly a bullying imperial power, but in my view Saakashvili seriously overplayed his hand and offered the Russians a pretext to invade. He may have calculated that a little bloodshed would spur nationalist feeling at home and strengthen his position, but now he is faced with the possibility of being toppled by Russian forces before the West can save him. Had he been a member of NATO, he would have had all the more incentive to play the dangerous game of bear-baiting in which he has been engaged for some time, with encouragement from Bush. But there is zero credibility to the idea that the US or NATO would intervene militarily to save his bacon. Inside or outside NATO, he will get only lip service. On your own blog you linked to a picture of Sarkozy introducing his son Louis to Putin even as the invasion of Georgia was beginning. Bush was equally warm in his greetings. These images send a message that relegates the diplomatic protestations to background noise.

Boz said...

Oh absolutely, he has definitely and dangerously overplayed his hand, assuming apparently that they could move in in the middle of the night before Medvedev could even pick up the phone to call Putin... Perhaps Saakashvili would have been just as jumpy if protected by NATO, but I would have hoped that 1) part of the bargain for membership would be coordination on what the Georgian military is actually planning to do and 2) Russia, despite the very distant possibility of US intervention, would be more cautious in brazenly invading these disputed territories. It's a rough situation either way, but considering the Western response has been particularly weak so far, NATO membership would have at least forced Europe and the US to get serious more quickly.